By Steven Tucker
It took exactly one month for the University of Connecticut to find a successor for Warde Manuel, and the Huskies hired a man that can not only carry on the athletic department’s storied success, but carry it into the promise land of a Power-5 conference.
Coming in as new athletic director is the current Chief Operating Officer of Athletics at Auburn University, David Benedict. If that SEC experience doesn’t immediately send your Power-5 senses into a frenzy, just take a deeper look at his resume. Benedict served as the Deputy AD at Minnesota from 2012 to 2014, and held a leadership role at Arizona State from 1996 to 2006.
Three positions, three Power-5 conferences. Still not excited?
Benedict was the interim AD at Virginia Commonwealth University when the Rams joined the Atlantic 10 conference in 2012. The A-10 may not be a Power-5, but VCU moved into a more elite level of conference competition than they had been in before. Sound like a valuable experience for the new head Husky in Storrs? Not only does Benedict bring the experience necessary to take UConn to the next level, he also carries some hefty endorsements from folks who are already there.
“UConn has made a brilliant leadership acquisition, for David clearly represents an emerging ‘pinnacle player’ within college athletics!” Dr. Kevin White, Vice President and Director of Athletics at Duke University said. “David is incredibly well-experienced, and will unequivocally ‘over deliver’ in each and every dimension of his responsibilities.”
Duke, of course, is one of the marquee members of the ACC, a conference which Husky fans know doesn’t have the greatest relationship with Connecticut’s flagship school. With all that’s happened between UConn and the ACC over the past decade, it’s unlikely we’ll see the Blue Devils play the Huskies on the court twice a year. One can hope Benedict’s connection to Dr. White could help open the door to new dialogue down the road.
In recent months, rumors have been circulating over the possibility of the Big XII adding a TV network, which could be good news for UConn if the conference deems expansion absolutely necessary to maximize viewership. Also good news for any UConn Big XII hopes is Benedict’s relationship with Chris Del Conte, athletic director at TCU.
“I have known David for quite some time and he’s a winner!” Del Conte said. “David will serve UConn and its constituents in a first-class manner. I’m very excited for him.”
The Big XII dream seemed lost for UConn fans after the NCAA ruled the conference could both remain a 10-team league and not play a football conference championship game, but until there is a final decision on the TV network, the door isn’t fully closed on UConn. Of course, there’s also the Big 10. Warde Manuel could be UConn’s ticket to the league if the opportunity presents itself, but it’s important to keep things in perspective.
Manuel’s new job doesn’t guarantee UConn a spot in the Big 10 if realignment occurs, and it’s very unlikely that getting UConn into the league will be among his top priorities when he gets to Ann Arbor. But networking is incredibly valuable in any business, and with Manuel at Michigan and Benedict in Storrs, UConn has meaningful connections in every Power-5 conference.
UConn’s time in the American, while not a favorite talking point of Husky fans, has still seen some positives for UConn athletics, including dual basketball national titles and a St. Petersburg Bowl appearance. Plus, the baseball program competes in a conference that finished among the top-3 in RPI at the end of last season. However, being in a Power-5 conference would benefit each UConn sports program. The opportunities, prestige, and revenue that come along with these leagues are benefits that simply don’t exist on as great of a scale anywhere else.
There is still much to be determined on whether or not UConn will receive an invite to a Power-5 conference. But judging by Benedict’s meticulous planning skills, there is plenty of reason for Husky fans to be hopeful.